French extreme-rightwing politician, founder of the National Front (FN) in 1972 and leader until 2011. His skill as a public speaker, his demagogic mixing of nationalism with law-and-order populism – calling for immigrant repatriation, stricter nationality laws, and the restoration of capital punishment – and his hostility to the European Union attracted a wide swathe of electoral support in the 1980s and 1990s. Although he progressed to the run-off round in the 2002 presidential election, he was heavily defeated by Jacques Chirac, and in the first round of the 2007 presidential election he was eliminated in fourth place. In 2011, his youngest daughter, Marine Le Pen, took over leadership of the FN and broadened support for the party, winning 18% of the vote and finishing third in the April 2012 first round of the presidential election.
The FN, under Le Pen, won 14% of the national vote in the 1986 National Assembly elections and 15% in 1997. Le Pen's 1988 and 1995 presidential bids attracted similar support on the first ballot, concentrated particularly amongst the unemployed, small-business owners, and young white males. In the 2002 presidential election he finished second, with 18%, but then attracted only about 10% in the first round of voting in the 2007 poll. He was elected to the European Parliament as head of the FN list in 1984, 1989, and 1994, but in early 1998 he was debarred from voting or holding elective office for two years (later reduced to one), following his conviction for assaulting a socialist woman candidate during the 1997 election campaign. In October 2000 he was stripped of his EU parliamentary seat. In December 1998, following a revolt against Le Pen led by FN's deputy leader, Bruno Mégret, the party split into two factions.
The son of a Breton fisherman, Le Pen graduated in law before serving in the 1950s as a paratrooper in French Indochina and Algeria, where he lost an eye during a street battle. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1956 on Pierre Poujade's right-wing populist party list. In the 1960s he actively supported General Salan's extremist Organization de l'Armée Secrète (OAS), devoted to perpetuating French rule in Algeria. In April 2003, his daughter Marine Le Pen, became one of the FN's vice-presidents.